As water becomes an increasingly scarce and expensive resource, drip and micro irrigation systems are gaining in popularity as alternatives to conventional sprinklers for watering yards and gardens.
Unlike sprinklers, which cast water across a broad area, drip systems slowly and precisely deliver water to the base and roots of plants. This targeted approach eliminates water loss caused by wind, overspray, evaporation, and runoff and encourages deep percolation at plant roots.
Because of the reduction in runoff, drip systems are particularly effective for watering plants on hillsides and sloping ground where runoff can be a big problem with more-conventional means.
Because a drip irrigation system offers slow and even water delivery, it is a smart choice for shrubs, vegetable patches, and flowerbeds—especially in sandy soils and arid climates. Drip systems equipped with mini-sprayers or micro-spray heads can be an efficient way to irrigate trees, large shrubs, and narrow or irregularly shaped lawns.
In addition to saving water, delivering water by a drip system reduces weeds and fungal diseases that can be spread by water on foliage and tree trunks.
Installing a drip system doesn’t require special tools or digging deep trenches, so it can be done easily even in existing gardens. Be aware, however, that drip tubing snakes along the top of the ground (or just below the surface), so it is often visible.
Because many of the components are exposed, they’re subject to damage from animals, children, lawn mowers, and garden tools. And because drip systems utilize very low water pressure for water delivery, they can clog easily, so you may need to check and clear them occasionally. This all means you may not be able to go away for repeated extended vacations with the confidence that your plants will be alive when you return.
That said, as water shortages become more common, drip systems offer a great way to conserve water while still maintaining a beautiful landscape. More and more yards are using a combination of sprinkler and drip systems to water the lawn and surrounding landscape. If you decide to go this route, make sure you use enough control valves for all the sprinkler and drip circuits. Install the sprinklers first, and use the same timer to control both.
A drip irrigation system uses flexible polyethylene tubing to direct flow to emitters or small sprayers that gradually water a plant’s roots. Polyethylene tubing is used because it is resistant to UV damage and because fittings are easily attached to it.
In addition to tubing, each circuit needs fittings, watering devices, a head assembly, a filter to prevent the small sprayers from clogging, a fertilizer injector if desired, and a pressure regulator if needed. Most drip systems work best with very low water pressure (15 to 30 pounds per square inch); a pressure regulator will reduce the water’s pressure if it is too high.
A single circuit can be run from a head assembly connected to an outdoor faucet, or multiple circuits can be attached to separate control valves to customize watering for different areas. Drip systems can also be attached to timers, which can control multiple circuits.
Drip-system kits are a great way to get started as they come with all the parts and tools you’ll need for basic irrigation. Once you have the main line assembled, you can add more tubing and emitters as your watering needs change.